Officially, nothing is going on with the Bulls and their coach, Jim Boylen. Like everything with the NBA, the evaluation of Boylen by the new front office is paused and will remain so until the league makes a decision about the season.
In reality, Arturas Karnisovas — the new head of basketball operations — and general manager Marc Eversley have been talking to players and holdover staff about Boylen. They are coming to a different conclusion than the previous management team that liked Boylen’s old-school, hard-nosed ways, reports Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Ownership, as well as former vice president of basketball operations-turned-adviser John Paxson, would like Boylen back and have told the coach as much… [Karnisovas and Eversley] have already had detailed discussions with players and retained personnel, however, and are getting enough of a mixed bag of feedback of what’s gone on the last year that they are leaning toward starting with a new coach and moving on from Boylen once a decision on the season is made by the league, according to a source…
What will undoubtedly sink him, though, is a source said that several key players ripped Boylen to the regime, and then there’s the elephant in the room of a 39-84 (.317) record since taking over from Fred Hoiberg.
In general, ownership gets what ownership wants, if they want to keep a coach, he stays. However, in this case, ownership moved Paxson aside and brought in Karnisovas to make changes to a franchise stuck in a rut. To be fair to Boylen, the team had a lot of injuries, and what he executed on the court was precisely what Paxson and owner Jerry Reinsdorf wanted — an old-school coach that was the opposite of Hoiberg. It just didn’t work.
Coaches can be hard on the modern player and still get them to run through a wall for him/her — if that coach has built up trust and a good relationship with players. Coaches today can’t automatically expect “I say jump and you say how high” loyalty. At every level, coaches need to build a relationship with players and tell them why they are doing things — do that and today’s players will run through walls for a coach like always. Gregg Popovich can be as hard-a** as they come, but the Spurs players also know he cares about them as individuals and is not flexing his authority for the sake of looking tough. Boylen appears to have skipped the build a relationship part with a lot of key Bulls players.
The challenge for Karnisovas is that he only can play the coaching change card so often. Politically, is it better to bring Boylen back — especially with next season likely starting late, maybe not having fans in the stands at the start, and generally being different — then make a move in a year? Kind of an “I tried it with your guy but it didn’t work” tactic buying Karnisovas a year to start reshaping the roster the way he wants before getting his coach.
The downside of that is the reputation of the franchise, particularly with players and agents. If the Bulls want to bring in quality players and keep them — the kinds of players with options — then having a coach key players don’t like is an issue. If key members of the current roster are badmouthing the coach to the new front office, imagine what they are telling players on other teams.
It feels like a coaching change will be part of the house cleaning in Chicago. Probably. But right now, like everything else with the league, any decision about Boylen and the coaching position are on hold.